Sunday 1 November 2015

Batteries Not Included - The GameCraft London 2015 event

On Saturday the 31st of October 2015 - Halloween 

Our merry group of developers took a trip to London with one purpose. To make a game in a day. We had no idea what the theme for the game would be, it's always a closely guarded secret until the morning of the event.

With no way of knowing the subject, it was impossible to predict what kind of game we would be creating. So we pondered this for a while.
We arrived in London to nice weather, the streets were dry and it wasn't cold. Just the type of weather needed for sitting inside all day and writing games.

We'd not been to the location of the GameJam before so it took a little time to get our bearings and find the place.

After a little time spent looking for the new (and amazing) SkillsMatter building "CodeNode" we arrived with a little time to spare, got ourselves signed in and joined everyone in a large room where the plan for the day was given to everyone. There were people from various sponsors there, a group from Audi were there as well as a team developing devices for an "Internet of things". It was all very cool.

GameCraft London 2015

There were actually 3 events going on on the same day, such is the massiveness of the SkillsMatter building and how much in awe I am of it and grateful for their kind hospitality - You guys rock! People were encouraged to mingle and to see what others were working on. It's great to meet people who share a passion for development, no matter what the subject is.


It came time for the brief for our event.  Batteries not included.
The irony being that the majority of the machines being used to develop needed batteries to function.

With 8 hours to go, we had to come up with a design pretty quickly. Dean came up with an idea in a eureka moment and suggested a top down racing game where the cars operate on power from the sun. I'm a big fan of alternative energy and electric cars so I was all in. I also used to love the old top down racers on the Spectrum.

Within a short amount of time we had a very detailed design on paper and coding the game could begin proper.

Detailed and comprehensive design.

Design is everything. 

We took graph paper and pens to work out our design first before touching any code. It's probably a good rule of thumb that if the design is too complex to fit on a side of paper, it probably can't be made in a single day. Skillsmatter also provided graph paper - great minds think alike, but it's always best to come prepared.

With the design agreed, I set about designing the cars while Dean put the Farseer physics system into our framework. We'd set up a git repo the evening before so we could easily share code without stepping on eachother's feet.

Once again we would use our familiar tools of MonoGame and Xamarin studio with Spine, Mixcraft, Audacity. However this time, I thought I'd try to use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop instead of my normal Xara.

The more we use these tools, the faster we become at producing content. But also it means that with MonoGame and Xamarin studio, we don't have to worry about trivial details like Operating Systems and hardware.

Dean used a Macbook pro and I used a Windows 10 laptop. A few years ago, this would have been almost impossible to share any kind of coding tasks between us - delegating one of us to graphics while the other gets on with code... thankfully this was not the case.

Although I did do a lot of the graphics...

The game started to take shape once I got the basic graphics to Dean so that he could animate them in Spine. He's getting rather good at it too and it wasn't long before we had a working race car.

I got to work making the track. I used Illustrator and Photoshop to put the basic track together.

13:Once I had the basic track, I sent that to Dean who then placed the bounding boxes for the physics system to use to contain the cars on the track. He did this also using Spine. 


While he was doing that, I got to work on the music. A racing game needs music to set the mood and to keep the adrenaline flowing, but we didn't have much time to spend writing a magnum opus. So I fired up my trusty Mixcraft and started to layer some of the samples in the library.

The results of this can be heard on our Soundcloud.

With this done, I mixed it down to an mp3 and added it to the MonoGame content pipeline for inclusion into the game. Very Easy!

Then it came time for the game's title. Dean had the track and cars loading and was working on getting the collision detection working, so we took a short break and came up with a name. Both Harvey and Dom (a visiting old friend) came up with the idea of Solar Race Cars, shortened to Solar RC and then turned into a logo.

Following that, Harvey got to reprise his role of voice actor to give us the announcer sounds which we recorded using a RockBand microphone and processed in Audacity.

For the final push, once all of the assets had been created, Dean and I shared the remainder of the programming, tweaking the physics and getting the gameplay working as it should... finally resulting in a multi-player top down racing game.

Harvey liked it, we were on to a winner.
With very little time remaining, we had to polish the game into a game which others would enjoy. A few things were required, braking and reverse - We'd not added those initially, but it became apparent once cars started ramming into walls that brakes were probably a good idea.


Finally, the time was up and we had to down tools and let people play our games.

Not all entries could be completed unfortunately, but there were some decent games on display - one of which was a card game using NFC chips as part of the game mechanics - very interesting stuff.

Play time!

Things were getting very competitive on our table, once people got the hang of managing their power levels, they quickly learned how to defeat each-other, taking advantage of the sweet-spot on the controller where power output was balanced with the energy intake from the sun. Then they did what all people do in driving games, rammed each-other out of the way to get to the finish line first.

Finally, it came time for the voting to end and the judging began.

In 3rd Place

, was a game by Ross McKinlay who single handedly wrote another racing game with a different take on things - as well as a very impressive tunnel effect made entirely using trig.

In 2nd place

 was the NFC card game, lots of people enjoyed playing that game - although I didn't personally get a chance to play :-(

and finally in 1st place....

in case you were wondering, it was SolaRC

In closing

Everyone had a great time, we played some great new games which in the morning of the day didn't even exist as an idea in the developer's heads. They were born on the day.

It's always amazing to me how much people can create in such a short amount of time and how warm and kind everyone is even while working under such time constraints..

Thanks again to Skill Matter for hosting the event and thanks to GameCraft for organizing an amazing day.

Thank You!

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